BRC: Christmas sees changing shopper behaviour

In Industry Comment, Industry News On

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard have announced the footfall and vacancies monitor for December 2017, with footfall suffering a steep decline.

Covering the five weeks from November 26 to December 30 2017, footfall decreased sharply by 3.5%, the biggest decline since March 2013 when it dropped by 5.2%. The December monthly year-on-year figure was significantly below the three-month rolling average of -1.9% and the twelve-month rolling average of -0.7%.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE commented: “The sharp drop in footfall this December, while sales grew overall, underlines how shopping is being transformed by the shift to online. In the past, shoppers would have exclusively visited physical stores to ensure stockings were filled for Christmas. Improved delivery options by both purely digital retailers and those with stores and an online offer mean many purchases of last minute gifts are moving online.

“The squeeze on discretionary spending also contributed to the decline in footfall. Households had to use their money more carefully, researching products online, rather than heading out to stores to browse.

“Retail parks fared slightly better than high streets by providing Christmas shoppers with the draw and convenience of parking, easy click-and-collect, and leisure facilities.”

Springboard marketing and insights director Diane Wehrle added: “The drop in footfall of -3.3% in the weeks leading up to Christmas provided a heads up for December, with the final outcome of -3.5% of little surprise. This is a significant weakening in performance from December 2016 when footfall in retail destinations dropped by just -0.2%, and it is the worst result for any month since March 2013. But it was high streets and shopping centres that struggled in attracting customers, whilst strengthening in retail parks, from -0.7% last December to -0.6% this year. The resilience of retail parks reflects the rise in online activity in December, which drives click and collect trips, and the better trading performance of food stores versus non-food retailers.”

Among those commenting on the figures is Fujitsu head of commercial sector Rupal Karia. “Retailers are navigating rocky territory at the moment, and this was reflected in a mixed set of Christmas results and declining footfall,” he said. “Economic uncertainty and inflation are inhibiting consumer spending while the convenience of ecommerce is eroding the appeal of high street browsing. Retailers can’t solely rely on aggressive pricing strategies to pick up the slack.

“The only unmitigated success was a company that is barely a decade old – online fashion retailer, Boohoo, who saw revenue double, with decent margins. Its success in the kind of discretionary spending that has evaded most of the grand old retailers is instructive: the rise of digital has upended the retail game, putting a premium on convenience and experience. Consumers will open their wallets for retailers who make it easy and/or enjoyable for them to do so.

“This idea of a seamless and immersive retail experience is not restricted to web surfing, and boosting the appeal of the bricks-and-mortar experience will require creativity and investment. Indeed, Fujitsu’s recent Forgotten Shop Floor study found that 8-in-10 consumers said that they would spend more with retailers that have a better technology offering. At a time of economic uncertainty, consumers need the seductive nudge of a seamless experience, whether in-store or online, to spend more on discretionary items. Retailers must be visionary in their use of tech and give shoppers what they want, before they know they want it, if they are to stand out in a tough climate.”

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